This was going to be my thing. Geocaching.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, it’s basically a world-wide grownup treasure hunt. The website gives you some coordinates and a short description of what you’re looking for and approximately where, and using a GPS device you try to find this cache that someone has hidden. Inside is usually a logbook to sign, sometimes some little trinkets that can be exchanged. It’s a concept that appeals to me for the adventure and the sense of a secret community with other’s who’ve also found this hidden treasure.
But as the idea evolved, it became about more than just the fun of the scavenger hunt. This was going to be my thing that I did alone, without Kyle. We spend practically all our time together, working together, spending our days off together, hiking together, skiing together, riding bikes together, cooking together, watching movies together; there’s not much we do without each other. I needed something that was for me, my adventure, that I did on my own. Something to prove to myself that while I love Kyle with everything I am, I am still my own person, capable of having adventures by myself and independent of him.
So I set out alone. I didn’t look at a map, because that seemed to go against the spirit of the adventure. The description had said that it was “near the hospital,” so I headed for the hospital. This would later turn out to be a mistake.
My phone still thought I was a car, so it had me sticking to roads. I followed the sidewalks until I found myself in the parking lot of a medical building, which sounded about right. But my arrow was here and the ending flag was still all the way over there. I looked at the woods behind the building, in the direction of my final destination. “Looks like it’s time to leave the beaten path,” I said to myself. The idea appealed to me, because it only heightened the sense of adventure. I marched into the trees.
And almost immediately popped out on the edge of a golf course.
Now, I’m not intimate with the rules of golf courses, but I’m pretty positive they don’t like random people walking around. Luckily, there was no one around, despite the fact that it was a Sunday. I walked along the edge of the green for a while, sticking close to the edge of the woods best I could, but with ever step the anxiety of getting caught grew. Finally, the green gave way to a building. This was my chance. I could sprint past the clubhouse and be back on a sidewalk before I knew it.
Except, I suddenly realized to my horror, that this wasn’t just a golf course clubhouse. I was staring at the back door of the Saratoga Springs Country Club. And I know they don’t like random people walking around.
Thankfully, luck was with me again and no one was around, but I didn’t feel like pressing my luck. A small strip of woods separated the country club from the medical building I’d started at. The medical building was completely deserted, and much less likely to get my ass arrested, so that’s where I wanted to be.
I threw myself into the brush. Except that unlike last time, this wasn’t a thinly treed stretch of woods. In fact, this wasn’t really a stretch of woods at all. It was a bush. A fucking bush. And there I was, squatting in the middle of it. Ahead of me was a thick wall of branches. Behind me was the country club lawn, and the risk of being caught trespassing. I couldn’t see how I could go forward but there was no way in fucking hell I could go back. I squatted there, stuck, and tried not to cry.
And then I did the only thing I could do. I moved forward.
Somehow I managed to break through the bush. I don’t know what kind of damage I did to the foliage, but it couldn’t have been pretty. At that moment, I didn’t fucking care about the fucking bush. I was safe. I sat on the curb in front of the medical building and tried to figure out what to do next.
The strongest desire in my stomach was to run home. To cry to Kyle how badly I’m failed at geocaching, to shove this experience behind me. But this was supposed to be my adventure. I’d set out to do this by myself, to prove that I could have fun by myself and explore something alone without relying on Kyle. I couldn’t give up just because I’d accidentally trespassed on the country club.
So I did what I should have done all along. I took a good hard look at the map, figured out where I was actually heading (a good quarter-mile in the opposite direction than I’d originally set out,) and set off once again.
A short walk later, I found myself in a much more likely scenario. A grouping of medical buildings in a small complex that was (luckily) completely deserted. I found the building that matched the description. But now I was having trouble zeroing in on the exact location I was looking for. Google Maps couldn’t zoom in close enough to get me within feet, and when you’re looking for something the size of a peanut butter jar, a parking lot is an enormous area to search. It was hot, I was sweaty, there was mud on my socks and my GPS couldn’t show me exactly where to look. My phone just wasn’t going to cut it; I needed a more precise tool. Frustrated, I headed for home for lunch.
A few hours later, I came back with a vengeance. I had our hiking GPS, which promised to be a much more powerful tool. And a quick perusing of the Geocache.com message boards taught me that there was no shame in driving to your destination and then searching on foot. (I’m not sure why this concept eluded me originally. I guess it interfered with my romantic fantasy of how I imagined it would be.) So I drove back to the medical complex, determined to find my prize.
This time, I followed my GPS, which told me precisely where to go down to the foot. It lead me to the overgrown brush lining the parking lot back by the dumpster. I began walking slowly back and forth, searching earnestly for anything that looked out of place. I examined every piece of garbage in the hopes that it was the cache in disguise. I got further and further into the brush, closing in on a large bush much like the one I’d barreled through hours earlier.
And then I spotted it.
It was a black leather case. It looked like an old camera case, or a fancy fanny pack, and it was tucked in the depths of the bush. It looked like it had been there for a while, braving the elements. Exactly how I imagined a cache should look. Ignoring the brambles cutting into my legs, I pushed through the brush until I was standing over it.
I was practically shaking with excitement. This was it. Everything I’d been through that day, all the emotional ups and downs, all the frustration, all the dirt in my socks and sticks scratching my legs, squatting in a bush while I tried not to get arrested…it would all be worth it when I opened that cache and added my name to the logbook of other successful explorers. This was my moment of validation. This was it. I leaned down and picked it up. Hands trembling, I unzipped it.
It wasn’t the cache. It was some bitch’s purse.
My heart dropped as I looked inside and saw some lip gloss, a maxi pad, a cellphone. I have no fucking idea how it got in the bushes, but it looked like it had been there for a very long time, at least since before winter.
All of a suddenly, the entire thing struck me as ridiculous. Here I was, standing in a bush next to a dumpster in a hospital parking lot, rifling through garbage and digging through a molding purse. All this in the name of adventure and independence. I dropped the purse back in the bush. (What was I going to do, go inside and say, “Hey, I was digging through the brush out back of your business and found this purse?” Yeah, because that goes over well.) I took one last sweep of the area and headed back to my car.
I repeated this performance (sans moldy purse) two more times in two more locations in pursuit of two more caches, and both times came up empty-handed. I had spent the large portion of the day wading through brush and weeds, searching for something I didn’t know what was and wasn’t even sure was still there. (A large danger in geocaching is that the cache is discovered by someone who doesn’t know what it is or thinks it’s garbage and the cache is moved or thrown away.) I was just so desperate to find them, to be able to hold my prize above my head and say, “Look! I did it! I found it on my own! Victory!” But it never came. Finally, well past 5:00, I drove home with nothing to show but legs covered with scratches and fingernails caked with dirt and a spirit crushed by disappointment.
And yet, I’m not discouraged. Disappointed, yes, but discouraged, no. Sure, I failed to find my treasures, but what I’ve come to realize (with help from my therapist) is that just the fact that I went looking for adventure made the endeavor a success. Geocaching is about the hunt, and that’s exactly what I did. Besides, when you really get down to it, I don’t think it’s caches I’m truly hunting for. It’s my confidence, my independence, my self-reliance, my own self-worth. Somewhere in those bushes, hiding in the underbrush, those are the real treasures I’m trying to find.
I just have to keep hunting until I find what I’m looking for.
EPILOGUE: Spoke too soon! Found one! It’s dumping down rain, so I figured it would be a good opportunity to go after one in the local park while the park is vacant. Well, I meant to just go and stand under the pavilion and see which direction it might be in, then come back later when the rain let up to actually go for it. But once I got there I kinda forgot that plan and went for it. (What can I say, I got excited.) Took my GPS a little while to find signal, but once it connected it led me right to it and I found it! I’m so fucking jazzed, I can’t wait to find more!